One of the year’s best meteor showers peaks tonight

Will weather interfere with tonight's meteor shower viewing? Here's the answer.

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - One of the year’s best meteor showers peaks tonight. What will viewing conditions be like? In the post that follows and accompanying video I cover that, plus your weekend - the last one of calendar Autumn - and the cold air heading our way.

Some high clouds will drift overhead, but the day overall will be mostly sunny and gusty with a warmer afternoon. Highs will be about 15 degrees above mid-December averages, ranging from the mid-60s to near 70 degrees. Winds at times will range from 15 to 25 mph with gusts of 30 to 35 mph. Speeds may be a little higher over the western viewing area and a little lower over the eastern viewing area.

Viewing conditions for tonight's meteor shower will not the best, but not the worst either. There will be some high clouds, which may keep you from seeing some meteors. The moon will be nearly full, which may wash out some of the fainter meteors. And it will be cold, which may make you want to limit your time outside.

However, there will be breaks in the cloud cover, and tonight overall is expected to be mostly fair. Despite the moon, moonrise in Lubbock is at 07:16 PM, the brighter meteors will still be visible. Though cold, winds will be light.

The Geminids are the he final major meteor shower of the year, typically producing 50 or more meteors an hour. Along with the Perseids in August, it's one of the best meteor shows of the year.

The Geminids will be at its best after dark tonight until just before dawn tomorrow, Saturday. The brightest falling stars are expected to peak around 2 AM.

The Geminid shower was the first to be linked to an asteroid - 3200 Phaethon (in orbit around our Sun). Most meteor showers occur when Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. As the Earth passes through the debris cloud left by Phaethon, specks the size of sand-grains burn up as they fall through our atmosphere (at about 80,000 miles per hour!), sometimes producing a spectacular show of "shooting" or "falling" stars.

Meteors enter the atmosphere at speeds ranging from 25,000 mph to 160,000 mph! When the meteoroid collides with molecules in the air, its high level of kinetic energy rapidly ionizes and excites a long, thin column of atmospheric atoms along the meteoroid’s path. This creates a flash of light visible from the ground. This column, or meteor trail, is usually less than a yard in diameter, but may be tens of miles long.

For your best view of the Geminid meteors, get away from city lights. You can hang out in a large park (if allowed after dark) or other dark but safe site. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.

In the evening the meteors will appear to originate low on the horizon to the east. As the evening progresses the origination point will move higher and higher in the sky until just about overhead around midnight. In the early morning hours the point of origin will be to the west, getting lower and lower in the sky. However, it really isn't necessary to look in a specific direction to enjoy a meteor shower – just lay down and look up and you are bound to see some meteors. Weather permitting.

Timeanddate.com has a neat table indicating, hour-by-hour, which direction and angle above the horizon the origination point will be. I've included a link to that page, and other links with more about this meteor shower, below.

http://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/meteor-shower/geminids.html

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/earthskys-meteor-shower-guide

http://www.chiff.com/science/geminids.htm

The weekend brings a slight reversal in the warm-up. Still, highs mostly will be in the 60s both Saturday and Sunday. Tomorrow will be mostly sunny and the wind generally light. Sunday will be partly cloudy and quite gusty. It will be dry across the viewing area.

Sunday night, or perhaps late Sunday, cold air will return. Early next week around Lubbock lows will drop into the 20s and highs will be limited to the 40s. In the northern viewing area temperatures may not make it out of the 30s Monday and Tuesday.

Light snow may fall in the northern Texas Panhandle and the Oklahoma Panhandle Sunday and Sunday night.

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